Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Inconvenient Omissions

Today's Perry v. Schwarzenegger Amicus fun was brought to you by a group of Catholic, Mormon, Evangelical Christian, and other Protestant organizations opposed to same-sex marriage.

One of the central arguments presented is a reaction to what they believed was the implication of Judge Walker, who struck down Prop 8 at the federal trial level, that the religious motivations behind the same-sex marriage ban were "sinister and novel." Namely, they conclude,"religious beliefs have informed American public policy in the past, and they rightly do so today."

Okay, fair enough, at least on the novelity argument. It is not historically atypical for political arguments to be grounded in religious opinion.

The brief misses the mark on the "sinister" claim though, arguing, incredibly, that the religious motivation against same-sex marriage "fits within a pattern established over centuries" wherein religious groups were on the right side of "the most significant movements in American history" such as slavery, women's suffrage, and the civil rights movement.

Yes, religion did help inform these movements. Both sides of these movements. Oddly, the brief whitewashes religion's complicity in the wrong side of these movements.

For instance, the brief's short section on slavery includes quotations by George Mason denouncing slavery because it would "'bring the judgment of Heaven." (Because if Yahweh didn't judge slavery as wrong, it wouldn't be wrong?). It also includes statements by Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln citing religious references "that inspired and sustained the terrible fight to end slavery."

Now, if we had only this brief to inform our understanding of history, we would walk away not knowing that Christians also used the Bible and their religious beliefs to assert that slavery was the natural condition of some human beings. For instance, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was another Christian man who used his religion to "inform" his opinion on slavery, opining "Slavery was established by decree of Almighty God... it is sanctioned in the Bible."

Oh yes, the authors of this Prop 8 brief are certainly correct that hearing from religious folks is hardly "novel" with respect to significant issues of the day.

The brief continues with a section comprised of three whole sentences on women's suffrage. Apparently, the two quotations provided demonstrate that "suffragists turned to religious language and belief to advocate their cause."

Not surprisingly, the brief's authors left out all of the more sinister religious justifications used to deny women the right to vote, and for good reason. For, it is religion's historic complicity and leadership in women's oppression that makes this Prop 8 brief the most weak in comparing anti-gay Christians to those who were on the right side of historical human rights issues.

You wouldn't know it by reading the brief, but many Christians opposed to women's suffrage used their religious beliefs to "inform" their opinion on ladies and voting. Citing Biblical references such as Collosians' command, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord," opponents of voting equality often argued that men and women had inherently different natures and, thus, different roles in society, family, politics, and life. Women, imbue with certain god-given differences from men, were seen as not suited for voting.

Perhaps the authors of this religious brief should have checked with their friends at Liberty Counsel before submitting this Amicus, because, as we saw yesterday, it is similar religiously-based and sexist theories of gender complementarism that are behind much of the resistance to same-sex marriage.

In other words, Analogy Fail.

To end, religious people are entitled to their beliefs and I would agree that religion has sometimes been a force for positive change. Yet to overlook religion's historical role in informing the wrong side of social issues as well is a gross historical revisionism.

When religious beliefs are grounded in false gender essentialism, anti-intellectualism, and strict interpretation of mythical books, history shows that opinions "motivated by faith" have only justified inequality, rather than transcended it.

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